Ca$h (2008) / Thriller-Comedy

MPAA rated Not rated, but probably PG-13 for some violence, sensuality, and language
Running time: 100 min.

Cast: Jean Dujardin, Valeria Golino, Jean Reno, Alice Taglioni, Ciaran Hinds, Francois Berleand, Caroline Proust, Samir Guesmi, Cyril Couton, Eriq Ebouaney
Small role: Clovis Cornillac

Director: Eric Besnard
Screenplay: Eric Besnard
Review published April 6, 2013

Cash 2008 Jean Dujardin Valeria GolinoCa$h is writer-director Eric Besnard's (In Gold We Trust, The Clown Smiles) attempt at a slick, Hollywood-style conman heist film, tossing in all of the usual tropes from a superficial standpoint that we expect -- debonair playboys, beautiful women, copious drinking, extravagant smoking, competitive gambling, sneaky parlor tricks, duplicitous personalities, a jazz-funk score, extravagant means of transportation (limos, speedboats, etc.), people walking around with an entourage while wearing sunglasses indoors, and plenty of overhead tracking shots around lavish vistas.  Alas, Besnard, like someone cooking from a recipe that lists all of the ingredients and none of the measurements, what results is the semblance of a confident conman thriller, but little of the authenticity.  The name may be Ca$h, but this is a counterfeit that won't fool anyone with any sort of familiarity (especially of the Oceans movies) with the classy and often nifty subgenre.

Jean Dujardin (The Brice Man, The Artist) stars as Cash (yes, that is his name), a slick, amorous con who, along with his two-bit partners in crime, has made a nice living in quickie money scams, and until recently, coming in under the radar of the French police.  Cash's brother (Cornillac, Sky Fighters), who is also in on the cons, ends up murdered by bigger fish in the game looking to get in on the latest big score, leading Cash to try to out-con the conmen from within when they coerce him into the major play.  The big-shot on the criminal side putting the squeeze on is Maxime Dubreuil (Reno, Flushed Away), and along with Cash's fiancée (or is she?) Garance (Taglioni, The Valet), and undercover cop looking for a cut, Julia Molina (Golino, Frida), they're going to put all of the pieces together for the biggest take of their careers.

Thrillers are a director's genre, with scripts that are often their own shell game with the audience -- it's as if the director himself is the con man.  A great director can get audiences to believe one thing, then fool them with another.  These directors also must navigate through glaring plot holes, using cinematic sleight of hand to get audiences to be so entertained by the flashier elements that they won't have time to stop and think about the plot and each character's motivation. 

Besnard, whose claim to fame came as a screenwriter, does a decent job in putting together the right tools to set this twisty thriller into motion, as well as reining in a talented, multinational cast of recognizable actors to bring it to life.  And yet, Ca$h stumbles out of the gate and never recovers, and it is precisely due to the choices made by the man behind the camera.  Instead of thinking about what will work best for his plot from scene to scene, Besnard seems more concerned with what aesthetically would be most reminiscent to the most successful con men thrillers, cribbing mightily from the aforementioned trilogy, Ocean's 11, 12 and 13, but does so without the assuredness of Steven Soderbergh.  It's not that the Ocean's films were original in themselves, as not only is it a remake, but Soderbergh managed to take elements from the best of the jet-setting playboy pastiches and make his own style, infusing truly good music, eye-popping cinematography, and a glamorous, motley ensemble of actors who could play for drama or comedy with equal measure. 

The visuals and music are the pillars of an effective comic caper, but they are liabilities in Ca$h.  The soundtrack by Jean-Michael Bernard is chock full of songs that feel like third-rate knockoffs of 1960s and 1970s jazz and funk.  So trite is the soundtrack, that it takes us out of the film to ponder just how bad the music is, rather than successfully carrying us through.  Compounding the audio issues are the visuals, shot on digital cameras that make the action on screen look barely better than someone's home movie footage, and edited together by someone who must have thought it would be fun to tinker with software like Final Cut Pro to make terribly executed split-screen shots and sloppy montage that add nothing to the feel of the film except distraction.

Besnard has Dujardin, who, like George Clooney, certainly fits the bill of a devil-may-care playboy type, but his character is such an empty shell that we don't have a particular interest in his success or failure, even with the murder of his brother.  All we're given for pathos is just a picture of the two siblings together in a happy moment, and Besnard seems to think that is enough to compel us to be on his side for the duration.  Not even close.  Cash, the character, remains an enigma throughout, and as we watch con men try to out-do con men, we're as ambivalent about our allegiances as Julia.

Ca$h will probably find a receptive audience among people who are big fans of the stars, particularly of Dujardin or Reno, provided that they aren't intimately familiar with the heist genre and have a tin ear for hip, jazzy music.  Unfortunately, for most other audiences, we're never invested into the characters enough to care about their plights, and the constant reminders of the artifice of its attempts to be 'cool' and 'fun' (I've never seen so many scenes involving the lighting of cigarettes or the imbibing of champagne) prevent us from even taking the film in on its own terms independent of our character allegiances.  When you're watching a 100-minute plot full of twists and turns that you don't care the outcome of, that's a surefire sign that the thriller you're watching isn't thrilling.  Unless you have an insatiable jones its star-power allure, don't give up any of your cash to get this Ca$h.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2013 Vince Leo